Targets and rewards.

There’s a story about a man who sits in front of a wood burning stove, shivering with cold. In his arms he’s carrying a pile of logs.

He says to the stove:

“Stove, first of all you give me some heat. Then I’ll give you the wood”.

Ha! Silly man. Of course he had it the wrong way round. Everyone knows that. No one would actually behave like this in real life.

For example, no one would ever say

“If my boss wants me to work harder they’re going to have to give me a promotion first”.


“If my partner wants me to be more caring and affectionate, they’re going to have to be more caring and affectionate to me first”.


“if we’re going to invest in research and NPD, we’re going to have to wait until we’ve made some more sales first”.

Would they?

I think the story of the man and the stove is a nice metaphor.

As much as being a story about ‘putting first things first’, I think it’s really about the difference between a target and a reward, and being able to tell the difference.

Our shivering friend mistook ‘heat’ for a target, when actually it was a reward. The real target was ‘I must use this wood to achieve a roaring fire’. Heat would simply be the reward for achieving the target.

I think this happens a lot.

We call things targets, and focus all our attention on them. But actually they’re not the targets, they’re the rewards.

This is more than just semantics, it makes a big difference to your success rate, because we can’t influence them directly.

Like market share. Or penetration. Or value rate of sale. These aren’t really targets, are they? They’re the rewards for understanding your customers, delivering excellent products, and selling them well.

Same thing is true with lots of survey ‘targets’, like net promoter score (or any other advocacy-based measure). This isn’t a target. It’s the reward for delivering a product or service that is truly remarkable. Like, literally remarkable, as in ‘worth remarking about’.

By the way, on a more human level, I think Love and Happiness are like this too. Ever hear someone say something like

‘I spent all my time trying to find a way to make myself feel happier, but finally I realised I was actually happiest when I was simply doing stuff each day that I enjoy’?


‘I spent my whole life looking for love, then magically it seemed to show up when I stopped looking for it”.

No, Love and Happiness don’t work well as targets. They’re rewards. And it really does pay to know the difference.

Understanding these distinctions, and then having the faith to leave the rewards well enough alone, and focusing instead on the actionable targets to deliver those rewards.

This is a discipline.

At Boxclever we do this every day, in brand tracking, proposition development, brand performance evaluation.

Drop us a line to chat more. That’ll be our reward 😊